Two rebel groups have agreed to merge and create an independent Islamic state in Northern Mali.
After seizing Azawad – an area larger than France – two months ago, the groups had initially disagreed, with the secular Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) resisting the al-Qaeda linked Ansar Dine’s calls to create an Islamic state.
The agreement will see the two forces merge and the appointment of an executive authority for Azawad. Islamists have already started imposing Sharia across the region.
The MNLA separatists backed by Ansar Dine and other armed groups took advantage of a brief military coup in the capital, Bamako, in March to seize the territory.
The Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) has announced preparations to send 3,000 troops to Mali to help the country reclaim its northern territory, but no dates have yet been set..
Efforts by regional neighbours to tackle the rebel occupation have suffered repeated setbacks, as the junta seeks to continue to play a role in government.